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John de Bruyne, 74, completes Cresta Run toboggan death challenge

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John De Bruyne on his toboggan during the Cresta Run. Picture: Melissa Michel
John De Bruyne on his toboggan during the Cresta Run. Picture: Melissa Michel

Trumpington resident John de Bruyne has inadvertently joined the Shuttlecock Club at the age of 74 while attempting to complete the Cresta Run.

The Cresta Run is a 0.75-mile natural ice toboggan track in Switzerland, built in 1884, one of the few in the world dedicated to skeleton. Membership of the Shuttlecock Club is acquired by coming off at Shuttlecock Corner – and surviving.

The Cresta Run and the St Moritz Tobogganing Club (SMTC) were founded by devotees of sledding – tobogganing in common parlance – who adopted a head-first technique of racing down the icy run in the winter sports town of St Moritz.

The challenge is considerable – indeeed so considerable that some do not survive. But Mr de Bruyne, who runs Anstey Hall in Trumpington, was not to be put off: indeed, he said nonchalantly: “The death of the man of 71 on the Cresta Run last year worried my kids, but he was trying very hard to beat his previous time.”

He decided last year that his own time had come – to do the Cresta Run, that is.

“I reached the great age of 74 recently so I am was thinking of something really silly to do to deny my great age and convince my girlfriend that I was still virile.

“So I asked the Cresta Run, St Moritz, if they would allow me to go down. It is an extraordinary place, invented and run by hearty British types. The leader is Lord Wrottlesley – it’s an Irish peerage – who was at Eton with his father and went on to get killed when his E-Type hit a tree.”

“The secretary is, of course, Lady Brabazon.

“They could not offer insurance to anyone over 69 – so I went to Lloyds. The broker said he would insure me, at some cost, but thought I was insane.”

There were other preliminaries too, just short of checking whether he was of sound mind.

“You have to get to the clubhouse at 6.30 in the morning. They then sit you down and give you what is technically termed ‘the Death Talk’. They show you the X-ray montage of all the bones that have been broken. I think six people have died on it. With my knowledge of statistics – having a degree in economics from Harvard – I considered this good odds. And anyway, on most days I drive along the A1307 to Haverhill which has a worse record. Poor Lord Willoughby has four bolts in his neck where he broke it.”

Mr de Bruyne, the son of Araldite inventor Dr Norman de Bruyne, admits he was “terrified” when he started the run.

“You have to get kitted up. You see your name up in lights on the Olympic-style board. You are assigned a guru who shows you how to lie on the tiny contraption. Then you slide away – slowly at first and my guru was shouting ‘rake rake’, which is using the claws on your toes to try to slow down. I got around the first corners and then went into the legendary Shuttlecock – a left-hander where if you are out of control you go over the edge. My guru advised that if you are going over the top, throw the toboggan to your left and roll yourself into a ball. They put some token straw onto the snow into which you tumble. Then, if you can, you must stand up and signal with both arms that you are alive.

“I nearly got around Shuttlecock but started to ricochet from one ice wall to the other and hurt my hand. I parted from the toboggan and fell heavily, cracking a rib. It hurts when I laugh. Then you get helped out of the run and have to walk to the road to await, in some shame, for the camion to pick you up. Local tradesmen in vans hoot as they go by to offer consolation.

“On my return to the clubhouse the lovely Annabelle said that as I had fallen at Shuttlecock I was entitled to join the most exclusive club in Europe – the Shuttlecock Club. You get a blue tie – which, of course, I wear always now. If you can show blood you get the red tie. And we have an annual dinner in St Moritz.

“Now I have to think of something dangerous to do next January.”

John de Bruyne at Anstey Hall wearing his Shuttlecock Club tie. Picture: Keith Heppell
John de Bruyne at Anstey Hall wearing his Shuttlecock Club tie. Picture: Keith Heppell

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